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'A Long Strange Trip'

The greatest jazz-rock fusion band of all time...

The oft-mythologized, metaphysical musical journey of the Grateful Dead began in 1965, and continued to sold-out crowds through the band's break-up in 1995.

Now a writer who rode along, enjoying unmatched access to the band, has produced a complex accounting of a pop-culture phenomenon.

Dennis McNally's book, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, McNally details the band's career from its inception in the

San Francisco Bay area in the early 1960s. The trip he takes continues through the 1996 death of Jerry Garcia, the guitarist and focal point.

McNally, who earned a doctorate in history from the University of Massachusetts, also explores the Dead's individual musical roots and the powerful inspiration they took from a symbiotic relationship with an unusually steadfast audience. McNally says the Grateful Dead's music combined "the trappings of rock and roll... with the improvisation of jazz,"

and made Garcia and company the "greatest jazz-rock fusion band of all time."

Garcia's influence on the overall chemistry of the band was surprisingly subtle, McNally tells NPR's Scott Simon. "Jerry was not the leader, except by example... He was a charismatic figure." But McNally also concedes: "he was the glue."

McNally was selected as the band's official historian in 1980, and in 1984 became the band's publicist. He admits to being a "Dead Head" himself. He explains the devotion of the band's legendary fans this way: "Once they get it, they don't leave."

The book is not McNally's first attempt to capture the essence of an American cultural phenomenon. He's also the author of Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America.

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